Victims’ families grieve as hit and runs fail to face consequences

VIKTORIA BALANZATEGUI

Medical student Gabriel Debono. Sourced by Facebook.

Medical student Gabriel Debono. Sourced by Facebook.

A year after his death, his family, partner, friends and the staff and students of  James Cook University Medical School are still mourning the passing of promising medical student Gabriel Debono.

On 1 September 2012, just days shy of his 21st birthday, Gabriel was involved in a fatal hit and run accident on Abbott Street in Townsville.

The Dean of Medicine at James Cook University, Professor Richard Murray described his student to The Townsville Bulletin as a “socially committed young man with a bright future who really wanted to work in humanitarian medicine and rural medicine.”

After a night out with friends, Gabriel was on his way home when he was struck by a car at 12.30am. A good Samaritan taxi driver who was driving in the opposite direction at the time stopped and called an ambulance. Gabriel was transported to Townsville General Hospital but died of severe head injuries.

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A note left on Abbott Road in remembrance of Gabriel. Photo by: The Townsville Bulletin (Zak Simmonds)

Three years prior to Gabriel’s death, mother of two, Peggy Jean Jacobs, was also fatally struck by a car on the same road, which is notorious for hooning motorists.

Circumstances surrounding her death have gone unsolved despite her family offering a $50,000 reward for any information that may lead to an arrest and conviction.

The woman who fled the scene after Gabriel was struck surrendered herself to police 36 hours after the incident. Investigations were drawn out as Casey Elizabeth Power had told police that Gabriel was already lying on the road at the time when she hit him.

Professor David Williams who performed the post mortem found differently.  Prof Williams said Gabriel’s injuries were consistent with him being in an upright position when struck.

Miss Power pleaded guilty for callous disregard for failing to remain at the scene and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, which was wholly suspended for 12 months. Her driver’s licence was also disqualified for 12 months.

Police have said that they did not have enough evidence to charge Miss Power with a more serious charge, such as dangerous driving causing death.

The maximum penalty for drivers who fail to stop after a collision is ten years imprisonment if the accident is fatal and seven years in situations where the victim suffers grievous bodily harm.

Statistics show that 2,700 people were abandoned by drivers during 2001-10, with 36 of these incidences proving fatal.

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2700 pedestrians were abandoned by drivers in hit and runs between 2001-10. Photo by: Viktoria Balanzategui

Inspector of the Major Collision Investigation Group Steve Smith told The Age that he puts hit and runs down to human factors,

“A selfish aspect of not wanting to face the consequences.”

“It’s a societal issue and a cultural issue and people really need to have a good hard look at themselves if they’re prepared to engage in that sort of behaviour.

“It equates to manslaughter or murder situation where you’ve got a fatality or potential fatality where you’re in some respects responsible and not prepared to assist.”

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Hits and runs are being put down to a societal and cultural issues of not wanting to face the consequences. Photo by: Viktoria Balanzategui

Despite the loss of her son, Gabriel’s mother Barbara Debono has said that she understands that any driver can accidently do the wrong thing while driving, either by being distracted or not paying attention.

“Any of us can make those mistakes, but by not seeking help for somebody who could urgently need help, is increasing their chances of dying,” she said.

“Leaving the scene is one thing, but not phoning for help for someone who is injured, is not caring for another human being at all.

“Give them the chance to survive.”

With the large amount of hit and runs in the Townsville community and many going unsolved, Barbara Debono has said that the law should be more focused on the truth, rather than punishing people for their actions,

“Punishment can often be a deterrence, the law should be less focussed on the sentence and more on the truth.”

“People might be more comfortable to come forward with the truth if the sentence could be worked out with the victims’ families and friends and their legal team.

“This would make going into the future easier for the friends and family involved.

“No law and no sentence will bring our son back.”

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Vivacious son, brother, partner and friend Gabriel Debono. Photo by: Viktoria Balanzategui

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